Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Breakfast

IMG_4146Ah, summer. ‘Tis the season for Moscow Mules at the Tiki bar (with Lila’s puppy Boomer), too many bike rides, sunscreen applied regularly to more than just one’s face — and tourists. They trickle in throughout June and by July, our landscape is once again painted with visitors as a wedding cake covered in a thick layer of fondant.

July in the High Rockies represents a level of chaos that can systematically both expand the wallet and implode the mind. And July 4th — especially for the restaurant — is the most vibrant strain of chaos. A “good” summer day shift with 3-4 servers means serving around 200-300 people — on the 4th we would serve 509; at night (a great evening with 3-4 servers being 150+ covers), we would feed 279 hungry mouths.

During the daylight hours, a free concert (featuring headliner Dirty Dozen Brass Band) drew people like red, white and blue spackled ants from their condos, sailboats, carbon bicycles and Escalades. The breeze blew them around like ecstatic tumbleweeds with holiday pay and lawn chairs and Coors Light sweating profusely in red, white and blue beer koosies. Lucky ducks. The fact that I didn’t get to attend the free goodness of the Dirty Dozen still eats me up inside like a little, hungry mob of cannibals navigating the acidic tunnels of my large intestine with glee.

Early on, the patio was a sea of bluehairs — everyone in the restaurant seemed to be over 60 and our Rye bread was disappearing like decent programs on MTV. Next, families and young couples towing panting dogs they reluctantly tie (after directed to please re-read the “No Dogs on the Patio” sign) to Aspen trees on the patio’s teeming fringe. At 6 a.m., we were plush with lemon wedges, Bloody Mary mix, perfectly round butters and a towering mound of rolled silverware. By 3 p.m., we were severely lacking everything — including the ability to think or speak clearly. At closing time, the rain fell (again) and we undertook the Sisyphean task of wiping, cleaning and organizing the blown apart restaurant.

The thing about July 4th is that it arrives indubitably at the same time as Colorado monsoon season (yes, Colorado boasts a series of “monsoons” that soar up from the southwest and make all the tourists nervous). The thing about monsoon season is the daily “witching hour” of sorts where the additional moisture, nervousness and wind congeals into exuberant, overly humid thunderstorms. And the thing about thunderstorms on July 4th is that upon the first raindrop, all order goes out the window like a bag of bad mussels.

It typically goes a little something like this… upon seating each table, we warn that if Mother Nature decides to pull up a chair  (rains/wind/thunder/lightning/Rocky Mountain weather at 9000+ feet), the patrons must hang out with Mother Nature for the duration. And the people always nod, probably thinking “Well, if it gets really bad, certainly they won’t just leave us out there!”

Yes… we will.

When I flit over to the table to ask if I may procure them a glass of freshly brewed ice tea or a hand-crafted Bloody Mary, they crane their necks around and wring their hands like mops and say, “Is it going to rain?”

“Probably,” I say.

And when I return with their chilled mimosas or hot tea (why do people insist on imbibing a hot beverage in the peak of summer?), they swivel like barber chairs and ask, “Do you think it’s going to rain?”

“Probably,” I say.

And then it does. And it’s July 4th and the patio is full and the innards of the restaurant are too and there is simply nowhere for anyone to go. Yet hither and thither they roam, trying to elude the rain and the wind (which will pass like gas, except quicker). They come with cups in hand, peering anxiously at the Cafe’s bulging insides, stuffed with what looks like warmer, happier customers.

“We don’t have our coats,” they say, rubbing their goose-pimpled arms and staring at us all beseechingly like orphaned hound dogs in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“Can’t we just take our meals to go?” They say, gesturing across their half-destroyed meals like Roman orators over the Colosseum.

And then the rain morphs to sun and they retreat back to their former posts, which are still dry under the wide red umbrellas.

Just yesterday, the scenario repeated itself, as black clouds circled the breakfasting patio like curious vultures. Although I was taking a break from serving to stand in as a busser instead, I still was flagged down like a speeding Audi A6 by a plethora of worried patrons. “Tell us,” they said, clutching their coffee mugs more snugly than a stubborn toddler clutches a blankie, “Is it going to rain?”

“Probably,” I say, juggling two trays laden with lipstick-smeared glasses, half-finished plates dripping with Hollandaise sauce and napkins shredded by an army of miniature poodles.

The first whisper of rain created a mass exodus from the patio to the dry tables inside — which, of course, were already full. Nervous and suddenly dissatisfied people clogged the doorway like an unhealthy artery, (some) zipping up their light jackets against the sudden Rocky Mountain chill. I dove outside like a mermaid into a frothy sea to retrieve salts, peppers and sugars before they were soiled. The rain came in droves like soggy hornets now and by the time I had un-deployed all twelve umbrellas, I was wetter than the carpet underneath a scared Labrador puppy.

“Must be fun for you guys, the rain,” said a good-natured older gentleman in a spray-on road bike outfit sitting just inside the door.

“Just another day in the office,” I said with a wry grin, rain dripping down the bridge of my nose like ants down a tree trunk.

Typically, the sun emerges shortly thereafter from its watery cocoon. Yesterday, it did not as the monsoons came out swinging like a juiced-up batter. Eventually, we sat and fed the hangry crowd roaming the pub downstairs like teeth-gnashing zombies from “World War Z”. Then finally, the restaurant emptied and we gathered like exhausted honeybees around a table with our salads, sandwiches and mimosas to talk about how ridiculous the day was.

And then the phone rings (great). Two people stick their heads in the front door (forgot to to lock it, again) to see if we’re open (hell no). The boss comes in with a stack of new menus to be folded (don’t look at me). There is a screaming child (still?) stuck in the bathroom (again) and the night chefs are arguing with each other over a particularly cheesy Mexican ballad. The ancient speakers are cutting in and out again by the door (not my problem) and it becomes evident that I need to be like Moses and get the flock out of here.

I burst out the front door like an expletive. A happy barrage of leftover fireworks explodes in the distance and I smile because for two days, I am free. Happy 12th of July!


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